Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

The Hills of Refuge: A Novel online

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in not producing proper credentials. The profession he was in before he
came to us was a queer one for an educated gentleman. You must admit
that. Your future and your happiness is in my hands, and a young lady
with the ancestry you have had ought to look - "

"Don't mention my ancestry, father," Mary broke in. "It interests you,
but it does not interest me. Life, as it is, is too grim and earnest to
spend any part of it in digging up the dry bones of dead lords and

"Blood will tell," Rowland frowned in sudden displeasure. "We are poor
and have our troubles, but we know who we are. Yes, I must be more
careful with you, my dear. And if Mr. Brown cannot show who and what he
is he doesn't deserve my friendship nor your faith in him. Women are
sentimental. Whatever they want to be right they think is right. The
sheriff has set me to thinking. He just as good as told me that I was
crazy to harbor this young man under the circumstances. I won't say
anything to Mr. Brown, but I hope you will be careful. You must not let
it be said - if the sheriff _does_ arrest him - that you were ever
anything more to the young man than - "

"I know nothing wrong about Mr. Brown," Mary broke out, now flushed with
anger, "and I know much that is good - much that I cannot tell you. I do
not intend to let a coarse man like that sheriff influence my opinion in
the slightest. He doesn't know Mr. Brown and I do."

"Still, you must be careful," Rowland urged.

"I don't know what you mean," Mary said, stubbornly. "I don't know as I
want to know. I shall have to treat Mr. Brown as my conscience tells me
to treat him. I know what he has done and is doing for us, and that is
enough for me."

"I know, but you must be careful," her father repeated. "Even the boys
must be put on their guard."

"On their guard, indeed!" the girl sniffed. "If you haven't eyes to see
that Mr. Brown is making men of them, I have. If you thought as much
about your children as you do about your forefathers you would have
noticed the wonderful change in their characters that Mr. Brown has
brought about by his talks and his example."

"I take your rebuke, my dear, because in a way it is deserved. I have
been too much absorbed of late in my history, but the book is about done
now, and I shall have more time for other matters. If Mr. Brown has
helped the boys I shall be grateful for it; still, good deeds sometimes
are done by persons who, to say the least, are unsafe. That reminds me.
A letter I once wrote to a branch of the Rowland family happened to
reach a man by the name who was serving a long term in prison, and the
fact is that he gave me more substantial help in what I wanted than many
others who had their freedom and whose respectability was not

"Why not state in your book" - Mary half smiled - "that the best
information you could get about the Rowlands was from a prison?"

"I call that flippant, daughter," Rowland answered, "but it doesn't
matter. A sense of humor is a family heritage which has come down from
the women of your mother's line, who were noted for their brilliant
repartee. I have recorded scores of bright sayings in my book. Your
great-great-great-grandmother once said to Washington - "

"I remember it," Mary said, crisply. "The same thing was told of a
number of other Colonial dames. Bright remarks must have been scarce in
that day of scalps and tomahawks."

Rowland was thinking of something else, and did not smile. They were at
the house now, and with one of his unconscious bows he left her to go to
his room.


One night, two days later, Rowland had retired early, and the boys,
having worked hard all day, soon followed him. Charles was seated on a
rustic bench on the lawn. He had noted the change in Rowland's manner
toward him and had promptly coupled it with the sheriff's visit. That
something of a serious nature was impending he did not doubt. Several
times he had caught Mary's glance, and each time he had felt that she
was trying to convey some hint that she wanted to speak to him, but that
no suitable opportunity had presented itself. Something told him now
that she would join him where he sat; he knew that she had not yet
retired, for now and then she passed the window of the lighted
sitting-room. The anticipation of meeting her was not that of unalloyed
joy, for he felt more and more that he had no moral right to the trust
she was so blindly placing in him. She had bared her soul to him; he was
unable to do the same to her. Loving her as he did more than life
itself, yet he was sure he had no right to foster love in her breast.
The burning tobacco died in his pipe as he held it in his tense hand
between his knees and again thought out the sinister situation. For the
sake of his love's life and hers he might wreck the hope and happiness
of a whole family to whom he had pledged fidelity; but if he did that
even Mary herself would spurn him. Yes, for had she not been ready to
sacrifice herself on a bare chance to save her brothers? No, she loved
him for what she thought he was, not for what he would be if he failed
in his righteous undertaking. He might tell her how he was bound, but
that would sound like self-glorification and would do no good, since her
only chance for happiness lay in forgetting him.

He felt rather than saw her as she approached soundlessly on the dewy
grass. He stood up. The seat was short, and the wild thought flashed
through his brain that he had no more right to sit close beside her than
the humblest subject beside his queen; so he stood bowing, and with his
hand mutely indicated the seat. She took it, and then, as he remained
standing, she suddenly reached out, caught his hand, and drew him down
beside her.

"What is the matter?" she asked, insincerely, for she knew the cause of
his restraint.

"Nothing," he answered.

"Oh, I know there is; but never mind," she continued, still holding his
hand. "I had to see you to-night, Charlie. I could not have waited

"Is it about Albert Frazier?" he asked.

"No, you know it is not. Besides, he has gone away for good and all. He
released me from my - my understanding with him. We are not even going to
write to each other."

The heart of the listener bounded, but it sank a moment later, for,
pressing his hand, as if to console him, Mary went on:

"I wanted to see you about yourself, Charlie - yourself."

"I can guess," he said, grimly. "It has to do with the sheriff's visit
the other day. I felt that something was wrong from the way your father
acted. He tries to treat me the same, but can't."

Mary lowered her head. She toyed with his big fingers as a nervous child
might have done. "I think Albert started his brother's suspicions
against you soon after you came to us," she said, gently.

"Suspicions?" Charles was speaking merely to fill awkward pauses.

"Yes, it is outrageous, but he has you mixed up with the men who left
the circus when you did. I suppose his idea is to get information from
you if he can - force it from you by unfair means. A man like him will
balk at nothing to gain his point."

"I can give him no information," Charles answered, in a low, forced
tone. "I knew such men were with the circus, and that they had left
about the time I did, but I did not even know them personally."

"I know that," Mary said, her hand now like a lifeless thing in his
clasp, "but you do not want to be arrested and - and questioned, do you?"

He started, stared steadily, and then released her hand. "No," he
answered, after a pause, "I don't want to go through that. I am sorry to
have to admit it to you, but it is a fact. I am - am really not prepared
for - for that. In fact, that is why I left the circus just when I did.
The report was out that the entire company was to be grilled, and I had
reasons for - for - But I think you know what I mean. I've tried hard to
make you understand that I am unworthy of - "

"Stop!" Mary cried, sharply. "This is no time to go through all that. I
know you are worthy, and that settles it. But I have not told you all.
Charlie, you are being watched day and night."

"Watched?" he exclaimed.

"Yes, the sheriff told father so, and I myself have seen the men. One in
the day and another at night. At this very moment we may be under the
eye of one of them."

"What is the sheriff's object?" Charles asked, in a tone of dead
despair. "I mean in having me shadowed this way?"

"I think he has an idea that the friend of yours who was here the other
day is in some way connected with the men he is after, and that he may
return to see you."

"Thank Heaven, Mike is gone, and is out of it!" Charles said, half to
her and as much to himself. "It would have been terrible if that poor
chap had been drawn into it. Well, well, you see what I have brought
down on you for so kindly giving me work and shelter and treating me as
an equal when I am simply an outlaw trying to escape imprisonment."

"Hush! hush!" Mary cried, fiercely. "I shall not listen to you."

He had made a movement as if to rise, but again she caught his hand and
detained him.

"I know what you are at heart, and that is all I want to know of your
affairs. You have said you were bound by honor not to tell everything,
and I would not want you to break your word even to enlighten me."

His face was set and pale, his lips twisted awry. Again he drew his hand
away. "Have you any idea when they will arrest me?" he asked, hollowly.

"Not for a week or so, anyway," Mary responded. "The sheriff said that
you would not be allowed to leave here. Do you want to get away,

"It would do no good to try," he sighed, and yet bravely, for he was not
thinking of himself at all. "It would be an open admission that I was
avoiding the law." He sighed again and stood up. "Pardon me," he said,
"but I mustn't let you compromise yourself like this. You say I am
watched, and it would be unfair to you - to your father - to your
brothers - for your name to be associated in the slightest with mine."

"Oh, what can I do?" Mary was standing by him now, her hand upon his
arm. "I thought I was unhappy over my brothers, but, now that they are
out of trouble, I am in agony over you. Oh, Charlie, don't you
see - don't you understand - "

Her voice broke in a sob. He was swayed by a storm of emotion. He was
about to take her in his arms, when the thought of being seen by a
hidden observer checked him.

"You must go in now," he said. "See how the dew is settling on your

She nodded mutely, and side by side they went to the house. The
sitting-room on the left of the hall was lighted, the parlor on the
right was dark.

"Come into the parlor," she said, in a low, firm tone. "No one could see
us there, and - and - oh, Charlie! I can't part with you like this! I
can't bear it. I'd lie awake all night."

In the silence of the big room they stood facing each other. Their hands
met like drowning persons afloat in a dark, calm sea. He could see her
eyes in the gloom. They seemed like portals of escape from a living
hell. Her quick breath fanned his face; the warmth of her being drove
the deathlike chill from his body. He took her face into his hands, and
bent and kissed her lips. She put her head on his breast, her arms about
his neck, and held him tightly.

"They shall not part us," she whispered against his cheek. "Never,
never, never!"


The Boston family were at breakfast. William was in his place next to
his wife, and his uncle, who now lived in the house, sat opposite him.
The two men were talking of stocks, bonds, securities, and insurance
rates. Celeste was taking no part in the conversation. In her morning
dress she looked as frail and dainty as ever.

Presently the maid who was waiting at the table bent over her shoulder
and, smiling, whispered something to her.

"Oh, is he!" Celeste exclaimed. "Tell him to wait. I want to see him
after breakfast."

"Who is it, dear?" William asked.

"It is Michael," she returned. "He has got back from New York. I want to
find out how his mother is. He has been away longer than usual. I am
afraid she may be worse."

Raising his coffee-cup to his lips, William dismissed the subject and
continued his chat with his uncle.

"We certainly have made the bank pay," the older man said. "As you know,
it was not in the best condition when I took hold of it. I had no idea
running a bank was so interesting. I have handled my end well and you
have yours. I have heartily enjoyed my work, but sometimes I am in doubt
about you."

"About me?" William's eyes met the upward glance of his wife, and both
looked at the old man inquiringly.

"Yes. You always seem nervous, overworked, and worried. I've tried to
make it out. Are you sure you are entirely well? You are getting gray,
my boy, and your signature often has a shaky look. You don't smoke too
much, do you?"

"I think not," said William, and his eyes fell under the calm,
penetrating stare of his wife. "But I _am_ nervous, and seem to be
getting more so. I am thinking of a vacation."

"That is right, take it," his uncle said. "I can run the old boat awhile
by myself."

Celeste remained at the table after they had left the room. She listened
attentively and heard them closing the door as they went out into the
street. No sooner were they away than she rang for the maid.

"Please tell Michael that I want to see him," she said to the girl. "He
is still there, is he not?"

"Yes, madam."

In a moment Michael appeared, his hat in hand.

"When did you get back?" Celeste asked, after she had greeted him and he
stood at the end of the table, the dust of travel on his gray suit and
in the hollows of his earnest blue eyes.

"At four o'clock this morning, madam; I'm pretty well done up."

"How did you leave your mother?" asked Celeste, and her eyes swept him
from head to foot. It was plain to the servant that her questions were
merely perfunctory.

"Very well, thank you, madam. It is very kind of you to ask."

"I am glad to hear it, Michael." Celeste faced him more directly now. "I
was afraid she was worse, for you know you were gone longer than usual."

"A few days longer, madam," Michael said. "I had no idea of being
detained, but I actually ran across a trace of Mr. Charles, and, knowing
your anxiety, I - "

"You have found him - you have seen him!" Celeste interrupted. "I know it
from the way you look, Michael."

"Yes, madam, I found him. After some trouble and quite a journey I
located him and managed to meet and talk with him."

"Sit down, Michael, sit down; you are tired."

He drew a chair back from the table and sat in it, his travel-stained
hat on his knee.

"Now tell me about him. Is he well?"

"A perfect picture of health, madam," Michael beamed. "He is living on
an old plantation down in the mountains of Georgia, working like a
common laborer, but he seemed satisfied."

"Like a common laborer!" Celeste repeated, sadly. "Go on, tell me
everything, Michael."

At some length the old servant recounted his experiences from the moment
of his meeting with Mason in New York till he had joined Charles in the

"And the girl you speak of - the planter's daughter. You say she is - "

"The most beautiful and refined young lady I ever met, madam. I cannot
tell you how well she impressed me. You could see by a look at her that
she was of fine stock. She was very nice to me. I saw her father, too,
but I did not meet him - a fine figure of a gentleman. A little run down
in appearance, madam, but a courtly gentleman at bottom. The house was a
fine old place. You could not blame a young man like Mr. Charles for
wanting to settle there, after all the roving he had had to get away
from - You understand what I mean, madam?"

Celeste nodded breathlessly. "You must tell me, Michael," she urged,
"if, in your opinion, Charles is in love with the young lady."

Michael hesitated; he fumbled the rim of his hat; he blinked under her
steady stare.

"Answer me, Michael," Celeste insisted. "Surely he would not object to
my knowing it if he is. You see, I am anxious to hear that he has found
such happiness."

"I may as well tell you that he made no secret of it, madam, but I
regret to say that it has not brought him full contentment."

"Then she cares for some one else," Celeste said, regretfully.

"On the contrary, madam, I am sure that the feeling is mutual. I could
see it in the way she looked at him, and in the way she treated me
merely because I was a friend of his, as he told her in my presence."

"But I don't understand," Celeste pursued. "If they love each other - "
She went no further, knitting her brows perplexedly.

"It is this way, madam. Oh, Mr. Charles spoke plainly enough that night
at the little hotel when he came to see me! You see, madam, he is
conscientious - Mr. Charles is remarkably so, and he will not, he says,
think of asking such a young lady to be his wife when he is - well, under
a cloud."

"Oh! Oh! That is it!"

"Oh yes, madam, and in that respect he is to be pitied. Even if he were
willing to keep his - his little mistake from the young lady herself, he
could not show her family proper credentials as to who he is. You see,
he is at present a common farm-hand. The young lady seems to understand
him, I should say, but her people and the community don't. You would be
sorry for him if you could see him and hear him talk in his brave,
manly, and patient way."

At this point Michael told of the timely aid which had been given to
Keith, the motive behind it, and the successful outcome of the
operation. As he told it, it was a dramatic story which held Celeste

"And he gave even _that_ money away!" Celeste cried. "I know he loves
her, Michael, but, as you say, he is only a farm-hand and the other
thing hangs over him. I know him well enough to understand that he'd
never think of marriage in his condition. Oh, he must be unhappy,
Michael! As you say, she may be the one woman in all the world for him,
and yet he has to give her up. Poor, dear Charlie!"

"Yes, he is unfortunate, madam. He no longer drinks. All that is over.
He is a man among men, madam. His simple life and regular habits have
improved him wonderfully. He is a young giant of a man. His skin is
clear, and his eye bright, but he is sad - yes, he is sad and thoughtful,
especially when he speaks of home and the little girl. He cautioned me
not to mention him to her. He wants her to think of him as dead, because
the young soon forget those who die."

Celeste rose suddenly. "I'll see you again," she said, clearing her
husky throat. "I must go now. I thank you, Michael. No one else could
have done what you have done." At the door she suddenly wheeled on him.
"Michael, wait, please!" she said. Her lips were twitching, her brows
were contracted as if in deep, disturbed thought. She rested her thin
white hands on the back of a chair and grasped it as for support.
"Michael," she continued, "did it ever occur to you that Charles may
have been drawn into that trouble by others and may not have been
_wholly_ to blame?"

"I can't say that I thought that, madam," said Michael, swinging
awkwardly from one foot to the other and blinking. "I did always think,
and believe, too, that he wasn't at himself when it happened. I told him
I thought that once, and he did not deny it. That is why I've been so
sorry for him, for a man ought not to be punished all his life for a
thing that was done when he was - well, like Mr. Charles used to get."

"I see; I see what you think," and Celeste nodded as if in affirmation
of some thought of her own. "And you say you think the two are in love
with each other?"

"Oh yes, madam, and that is the sad part of it."

"And that but for Charles's secret trouble they would be married?"

"Yes, madam. I have no doubt of it."

"Thank you, Michael. You may have done him a great service by - by going
to see him when you did. I mean," she added, starting as from some inner
fear, "that reaching him just when you did with that money - "

"Oh yes, madam, Mr. Charles spoke of that a dozen times. You see, as I
have tried to explain, it lifted a load from the young lady."

"I understand that," Celeste said, musingly. "And she is very pretty and
sweet and gentle, you say?"

"She is everything a lady ought to be, madam, and, oh, I must say my
heart ached for her, too, for I could see how she felt about him. She is
full of spirit. She is the kind that would fight for a man to the last
ditch and drop of blood. But, oh, madam, it seemed so sad! There he was
in a farmer's clothes, his hands as hard as stone, and she - why, madam,
he treated her like she was a princess of royal rank, and all the time
with that old, sad look he used to have when he was scolding himself to
me after one of his little sprees around town. Almost the last thing he
said to me, madam, was that when he had helped her all he could he
intended to slip away, for her own good, and take up his life somewhere
else among strangers. It was then, madam, I assure you, that I almost
lost my religion. I've been taught, madam, from my mother's knee - and
she is a saint, if one ever lived - I say I've been taught that our
Saviour died to help men who repent, and there was Mr. Charles bowed
down like that without a hand held out to him. He gave up all he loved
here - you, the little girl - his 'Sunbeam,' as he called her down
there - and his brother, and now, when he has found some one that he
loves, he must give her up also and start to roving again. I shed tears.
I couldn't help it, and it moved him. I could see that. We were in my
room at the hotel. His face turned dark as he sat there on my bed trying
to be calm. He stood up and shook himself and smiled. 'Mike,' he said,
'nothing counts that we do for ourselves. It is only by forgetting
ourselves and helping others that we accomplish anything worth while.'"

"Thank you, Michael, I'll see you again soon," Celeste said, moving
toward the door.


"'Nothing counts that we do for ourselves,'" Celeste repeated, as she
was ascending the stairs to her daughter's room. At the door she paused
and listened for a moment, then, softly turning the bolt, she entered
the room. The blinds were down to exclude the sunlight which was growing
warm. On the great white bed Ruth lay asleep. One plump bare arm,
shapely wrist, and hand lay against the mass of golden hair. Celeste
stood at the foot of the bed, and with a mother's parched thirst drank
from the picture before her eyes. How beautiful the child was! How
exquisite the patrician brow, the neck, the contour of nose, mouth, and
chin! How temperamentally sensitive, imaginative, and high-strung! How
proud of her father, of his social and financial standing and his old
name of Puritan respectability! How affectionate she was with her
mother, how adored by the servants and by her absent uncle!

"She is all I have now!" thought Celeste, as she choked down a sob, "Can
I do it - am I able to do it?"

She sat in a rocking-chair near the bed, her gaze still on the child's
face. A sudden breeze fanned the shades of the windows inward. She
locked her hands in her lap, her thin, blue-veined, irresolute hands in
a lap of stone. "'Nothing counts that we do for ourselves,'" she quoted,
uncompromisingly. "If I refuse I'll not be acting for myself, but for
her - my baby - my darling baby! Charlie loved her enough to undertake her
rescue, and I must help him carry it through. Yes, I can do that
conscientiously. It would kill her to learn that her father was a
convict. She couldn't grow up under it. It would blight her whole
existence. At school she would hear it. In society it would be whispered
behind her back and thrown in her face. Oh, it can't be! God would not
allow it to be. He would not allow the sins of a father to fall on
shoulders so frail and helpless. Some coarse children would think
nothing of it; it would kill my baby. She would brood over it - oh, I
know my child! She would hold it in her mind night and day. From what
she now is she would become an embittered cynic, soured against life and
her Creator. She would never marry. She would not want to bring children
into a world so full of pain. And yet, and yet - " Celeste rose and went
to a window and stood looking out, peering through the small panes as a
hopeless prisoner might.

"And yet - justice must be done." Her white lips framed the words which
shrank from utterance. "Charlie has _his_ rights, and so has the girl he
loves. He undertook our rescue without knowing the cost. He was full of

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